Ex-Missouri trooper in Ozarks handcuffed drowning case has license revoked — again

A former Missouri trooper, who was fired for his actions the day a handcuffed Iowa man drowned while in his custody five years ago, has lost another attempt to get his job back.

Anthony Piercy had appealed last summer’s decision by the director of public safety to revoke his peace officer license, which he must have to be a law enforcement officer in the state. Last month, a Cole County circuit judge ruled in Piercy’s favor and reversed the revocation, sending the decision back to the department of public safety.

Earlier this week, the deputy director of that agency issued his ruling, again revoking Piercy’s license to be an officer in Missouri.

“In addition to violating Missouri law, Mr. Piercy’s actions violated the policies of his commissioning agency,” wrote Kenny Jones, deputy director of Missouri’s Department of Public Safety. “... An individual in custody is entitled to safe treatment from his arresting officer.”

Craig Ellingson, the father of Brandon Ellingson, who was in Piercy’s custody when he drowned in Lake of the Ozarks, said he’s been warned by the attorney general’s office that the former trooper could appeal yet again. If he did, the case would go back to court.

“He thinks he’s the victim,” Ellingson said Thursday of Piercy. “He didn’t think I would file a complaint with the department of public safety. Otherwise, he would be a trooper now.”

Piercy pulled over Brandon Ellingson, a 20-year-old college student, on May 31, 2014, on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. During the stop, Piercy handcuffed the Iowa man’s hands behind his back. Witnesses told authorities that the trooper then put an already-buckled life vest — the wrong one for a handcuffed person — over Ellingson’s head.

On the way to a field office for more testing, Piercy traveled at speeds up to 46 mph. At one point, after the boat hit a wave, Ellingson was ejected. His improperly secured life vest soon came off. Piercy eventually jumped into the lake to try to save him but couldn’t.

Though a coroner’s inquest ruled Ellingson’s death an accident in September 2014, a special prosecutor charged Piercy with involuntary manslaughter in December 2015 and the patrol put the trooper on leave without pay. Piercy later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

After Piercy was sentenced for misdemeanor negligent operation of a vessel in September 2017, Ellingson pushed for Piercy to lose his Peace Officer Standards and Training license for life. Ellingson said he didn’t believe 10 days in the county jail, two years of supervised probation and 50 hours of community service were enough punishment for the trooper.

Piercy also had lost his job with the patrol, but a Cole County judge ruled last year that the patrol’s leader overreached her authority when she fired Piercy. Once his license had been revoked, it’s a moot point. All officers must carry a POST license to be employed as an officer or trooper.

Days after Ellingson’s death in the Gravois Arm of the lake, The Star began investigating. Through interviews and records requests, the newspaper discovered that after Missouri merged the Water Patrol into the Highway Patrol in 2011, some road troopers weren’t adequately trained to work on the water.

Piercy — who at the time of Ellingson’s death was an 18-year veteran of the road — received just two days of field training before he was cleared for “solo boat time.” Before the merger, Water Patrol recruits were required to receive at least two months of field training.

Since Ellingson’s death, the patrol has increased training for troopers who work the water.

Craig Ellingson still goes to the Lake of the Ozarks, which was one of his son’s favorite places.

“I can’t imagine what that was like for Brandon,” Ellingson said. “ ... It’s been over five years and it’s just like a nightmare every day. It never gets easier.”

Laura Bauer came to The Star in 2005 after spending much of her life in southwest Missouri. She’s a member of the investigative team focusing on watchdog journalism. In her 25-year career, Laura’s stories on child welfare, human trafficking, crime and Kansas secrecy have been nationally recognized.